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20 Chinese Survival Phrases

By Rob

With a population of over 1.35 billion people, China is rapidly becoming a ‘go-to’ destination for tourists from all over the world. Although many different languages are spoken throughout the country, Mandarin is understood by most people, so getting to know the language can be a real lifesaver no matter which part of the country you are in!

With the help of Memrise’s exclusive Native Speaker Videos, we’ve put together 20 phrases to help you survive and even thrive on your next visit to China.

Want to learn more? Check out Memrise’s official Chinese courses!

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1. 你好! Níhǎo! / Hello!

Not only used for “Hello”, but you can also use this to politely get somebody’s attention, for example, a waiter or waitress in a restaurant.

2. 欢迎光临  Huānyíng guānglín / Welcome (to our shop, restaurant, etc.)

The word “huānyíng” itself simply means “welcome”, but adding “guānglín” turns this into a simple phrase that staff use to welcome customers to their shop or restaurant when they enter.

3. 对不起  Duìbùqǐ / Sorry

A super useful phrase to know in any language. Check out this song to hear the word in action!

4. 我不懂  Wǒ bù dǒng / I don’t understand

Unless your Mandarin is already perfect, you will probably find this quite useful when some old lady tells you: “哇,你长得好高哦。你肯定是打篮球的吧!”.

5. 没关系  Méi guānxi / It doesn’t matter

This is what you should say to somebody who apologises for stepping on your foot when you’re crammed into the Shanghai metro during rush hour.

6. 谢谢  Xiè xie / Thank you

It always pays to be polite, and if you can do it in Mandarin, people will like you even better!


7. 请问有刀叉吗? Qǐngwèn yǒu dāochā ma? / Do you have a knife and fork, please?

Not everybody’s chopstick skills are completely up to scratch, so if you need it, this is how to ask for a knife and fork. But be warned, unless you’re in a pretty fancy restaurant, the most likely answer is going to be 没有 méiyǒu (no/we don’t), rather than 有 yǒu (yes/we do).


8. 请问有素菜吗? Qǐngwèn yǒu sùcài ma? / Do you have vegetarian food?

Although it is true that there have traditionally always been a lot of buddhists in China, finding meat-free food, can sometimes be a bit hard. But with this phrase, you can’t go wrong.


9. 饺子很好吃  Jiǎozi hén hǎochī / Dumplings are very tasty

Because they are! Mmmm… jiǎozi….


10. 我要这个  Wǒ yào zhègè / I want to have this

For when you don’t know the Chinese word, you can always just point at what you want.

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11. ……用中文怎么说?… yòng zhōngwén zěnme shuō? / How do you say … in Mandarin?

And if you want to know the right word instead of just point, you can ask this.


12. 很高兴认识你  Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ / Nice to meet you

One of the best parts of traveling is making friends. Make sure you use this phrase when you do!


13. 祝你好运  Zhù nǐ hǎoyùn / Good luck

Literally “wish – you – good – luck”. It’s never a terrible idea to have that extra bit of luck with you when traveling abroad.


14. 因为我饿了,所以我生气  Yīnwèi wǒ èle, suóyǐ wǒ shēngqì / I’m angry because I am hungry

Unlike some other English words, “hangry” hasn’t really caught on in China yet, but this phrase works just as well. Notice that it actually works the other way round to English – literally: “Because I am hungry, so I am angry”.


15. 我会说一点儿中文 Wǒ huì shuō yìdiǎn’r zhōngwén / I can speak a little Chinese

Once you reach survival phrase 20, this will most definitely be true! Go you!!


16. 你中文真好 Nǐ zhōngwén zhēn hǎo / Your Chinese is so good

Often, Chinese people aren’t used to lǎowài (foreigners) speaking Chinese. So some will even say this to you just because you said “níhǎo”!


17. 哪里哪里 Nǎli nǎli / You flatter me

Literally, this means “where, where?”, but Chinese people use it to show modesty when someone pays them a compliment.


18. 干杯 Gānbēi / Cheers

Literally “dry – glass”, or in other words, “Down it!”. Don’t worry too much though; it is usually just used to mean “cheers”, so keep an eye on whoever is saying it to see whether they really want you to drink the whole thing.


19. 够了 Gòule / Enough

Try remembering this by thinking ‘one goal (gòule) is often enough to win the match’.


20. 再见 Zàijiàn / Goodbye

“Zàijiàn” means “Goodbye”. And I think that is gòule(enough) for today’s survival phrases now that nǐ huì shuō yìdiǎn‘r zhōngwén(you can speak a little Chinese). I am sure that everyone will tell you nǐ zhōngwén zhēn hǎo(your Chinese is so good!) only to hear you respond with nǎli, nǎli(you flatter me)! So zhùnǐ hǎoyùn (wish you luck) on your Chinese journey! 再见 Zàijiàn!


Want to brush up your Chinese before your next trip to China?

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